Summer wildfire emissions in Europe highest for 15 years


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Carbon emissions from wildfires in the European Union and the United Kingdom for summer 2022 reached its highest levels since 2007, largely driven by emissions from wildfires in southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula in recent months, Copernicus has reported.

The August heatwave that hit western Europe, combined with prolonged dry conditions, saw increased levels of wildfire activity and intensity in the region ove the summer.

Wildfire activity in August contributed a total cumulative burnt area in the EU over the summer months (4 June to 3 Sept) of 508,260 hectares, compared to a 2006-2021 average of 215,548 hectares for the same period, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

The total cumulative burnt area in the EU from the start of the year to 3 September amounts to over 750,000 hectares, compared to an average of just over 260,000 hectares in 2006-2021.

This increased activity is also reflected in smoke emissions (including carbon gases, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds) from wildfires.

Data from the CAMS Global Fire Assimilation System (GFAS) shows that total wildfire emissions in the EU and the United Kingdom between 1 June and 31 August in 2022 are estimated at 6.4 megatonnes of carbon, the highest level since 2007.

In France as a whole, wildfires destroyed over 62,000 hectares from the start of the year to 3 September, six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, according to EFFIS data.

GFAS data show both France and Spain recording the highest carbon emissions from June to August since 2003. Comparing different years in the 20-year GFAS dataset helps to provide context for current fire emissions.

In other regions of Europe, Slovenia, Czechia, Hungary and Germany saw significant wildfire activity. In Germany, the cumulative burnt area amounted to 4,293 hectares, almost double the previous maximum of 2,437 hectares and significantly higher than the 2006-2021 average of just over 330 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

CAMS Senior Scientist and wildfire expert Mark Parrington commented: “The scale and persistence of the fires in the southwest of Europe, leading to the highest emissions for Europe in 15 years, was extremely concerning throughout the summer.

“The majority of the fires occurred in places where the changing climate has increased flammability of the vegetation, such as in southwestern Europe, and as we have seen in other regions in other years. CAMS is now closely monitoring the current fire emissions and smoke transport in the Amazon region, and across South America, as the peak fire season approaches in the coming weeks.”

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